A fraudulent online investment app called JawaEye has been accused of stealing Rs. 25 billion from unsuspecting users in Pakistan.
The app was operated by a fake company claiming to be based in Indonesia, and used a Ponzi scheme to attract customers with the promise of lucrative profits.
Thousands of Pakistanis invested a minimum of Rs. 15,000 each as a sign-up fee, but the app primarily operated through its website, with the Google Play version likely being used to build trust. The app was recently removed from Google Play, but not before hundreds of videos promoting it had been uploaded to YouTube, and dozens of Facebook groups had been created to lure people to sign up.
Like a typical Ponzi scheme, users earned low profits, which took months to break even, but they were provided with higher profits to attract other people to sign up. Recent reviews of the app on Google show how customers realized they were being scammed, but it was too late by that time.
Customers were also alerted to policy changes which put profits on hold, and the app became less responsive as panicked customers sought answers.
The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) had taken up the matter with Google and requested that only registered apps with relevant regulators such as the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) or SECP be placed on the Play Store.
However, the fact that the app operated in Pakistan for months without any action raises questions about the performance of relevant departments. It is also worth noting that an unlicensed app cannot provide financial services unless it is registered with the relevant departments.
Recently, the FIA Faisalabad registered an FIR against individuals involved in the business of illegal foreign currency trading in Sahiwal. The FIR stated that criminal groups had installed various investment-related apps on their phones, and transferred remittances through Hawala or Hundi using unauthorized local agents in different cities.